by admin on December 30, 2009

Back-to-school time has become its own shopping season, second only to Christmas in terms of family expenditures. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects record spending for 2019, with parents spending an average of $696 per child (elementary through high school) to go back to school, while the Huntington Bank Backpack Index estimates costs will exceed $1,000.

If your child is going to college, the NRF estimates that you’ll spend around $976 on supplies.

That’s as much as an average mortgage payment, and each year costs continue to outpace inflation. Multiply this amount by two or three (or five) children, and it’s easy to see why many parents start sweating in mid-July when the barrage of back-to-school fliers and ads start appearing, check out the latest mohawk superfine deals.

Whether your kids start kindergarten this fall or head off to college, you can buy them everything they need without breaking your bank account. Let’s look at 16 strategies to help you become a savvy back to-school-shopper this year.

Note: These strategies apply to K-12 students. If you’re shopping for a college student, check out these ways to save money on college back-to-school shopping.

The Rising Cost of Back-to-School Supplies

According to a survey conducted by the nonprofit organization Junior Achievement USA, 60% of parents say it’s challenging to afford back-to-school supplies. And it’s no wonder; the Huntington Bank Backpack Index shows that even parents of elementary school students are footing a higher bill each year.

Parents report that even elementary-aged children are being asked to occasionally submit assignments digitally, while these requests are now far more frequent for middle and high school-aged students. For the first time, this year Huntington Bank added the cost of a laptop and Internet to the basic school supplies list for even young children, raising average costs to over $1,000.

The costs break down as follows:

  • $1,017 for elementary school students – a 35% increase from 2018
  • $1,277 for middle school students – a 22% increase from 2018
  • $1,668 for high school students – an 11% increase from 2019

These numbers are based on a list of classroom supplies and fees (which include extracurricular fees for activities such as sports and band) from 26 states, with the cost of these supplies based on moderately priced options from big-box retailers. Why are these costs on the rise?

More Classroom Supplies

Today, parents are being asked to contribute more of the supplies that schools used to be responsible for providing. For example, many districts ask parents to contribute scissors, paper, crayons, glue, facial tissue, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes. Due to budget cuts, schools simply don’t have the money for these basic supplies.

For example, take a look at these back-to-school lists for first- through fifth-grade students in Indiana. Many of these supplies used to be contributed by the school itself. This puts parents on a tight budget in a difficult situation because if they don’t contribute these supplies, the teacher typically has to pay for them.

Citing data from the Department of Education, The New York Times reports that 94% of teachers report spend their own money on school supplies. TIME magazine reports that most teachers spend $500 of their own money on classroom supplies each year, and many spend more than $1,000.

Pay-to-Play Sports

Remember when you could just sign up for softball or baseball, and all you had to buy was your own jersey with your name on it? Those days are long gone.

The cost of extracurricular activities is another reason going back to school is so expensive, and you can point the finger for this at – you guessed it – budget cuts. Citing research from Utah State University, TIME magazine states that parents now spend an average of $2,292 on their children’s sports. Financial consulting firm Mass Mutual reports that parents spend, on average, $100 to $500 per month, per child, to participate in elite sports, with the bulk of that going towards travel and participation fees.

Some sports are shockingly expensive. For example, here are the average yearly costs for some of the most popular middle school and high school sports:

  • Basketball: $1,143
  • Soccer: $1,472
  • Football: $2,739
  • Baseball/Softball: $4,044
  • Hockey: $7,013
  • Lacrosse: $7,956

Of course, these numbers represent the average costs for fees and equipment per child per year. If your child’s team has to travel for tournaments or playoffs, you’ll have to pay for those expenses too. These often include airfare, hotel, meals, and fees and dues for tournament participation.

The Washington Post reports that participation in school sports has declined almost 8% over the last decade, and one of the biggest reasons is the astronomical cost.

Many middle- and lower-class families simply can’t afford to have multiple children playing sports, and as a result, the participation in school sports is becoming a class issue separating the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The Washington Post also reports that kids from families earning less than $25,000 participate in sports at half the rate of kids from families earning $100,000 or more.

How to Save on Back-to-School Supplies

If you’re stressed out about this upcoming drain on your bank account, take a deep breath. There are plenty of ways to not spend $1,000 per child this back-to-school season. If you start early and plan ahead, you can put your kids on a bus for a fraction of this amount.

Keep in mind that back-to-school sales start a bit earlier each year. Staples now puts out its back-to-school section in late June, with many items already on sale to entice parents to buy. You can save by purchasing one or two items at a time throughout the summer. Spreading your purchases out this way can also avoid a huge hit to your monthly budget.

1. Do a Supply Sweep

Believe it or not, you might already have plenty of school supplies lying around your house. Closets, desk drawers, and basement bins could hold hidden treasures that can save you money.

Start by rounding up all of the office and school supplies you already own. Put them in a central location, such as a plastic bin or the dining room table, so you can make a list of what you have. Keep this list in your purse or car so you don’t forget it when you shop for school supplies. You can also take a picture of your current supplies to refresh your memory when you’re out shopping.

Next, go through your kids’ closets and start sorting. Clothing that kids have outgrown, as well as worn clothing, should be donated or tossed. Once you complete this “supply sweep,” you’ll have a clearer picture of what you actually need to buy. Ideally, the sweep will prevent you from buying something you already have on hand.

2. Plan a Supply Swap

Coordinate with your friends and neighbors and host a “supply swap” before you head out shopping.

For instance, you might have reams of loose-leaf paper that you bought on sale, but you’ll never use it all. Meanwhile, your friend might have several packs of pencils she’d be willing to trade for some of that paper. Talk to friends and family who have school-aged children and see if they have extra supplies they’d be interested in trading.

3. Shop at Garage Sales & Thrift Stores

Garage sales can be a treasure trove of deals for back-to-school supplies. You can find backpacks, gently used shoes, clothing, and even school supplies there for a song.

Start hitting up garage sales for everything you need. It takes time, but you can score some incredible bargains by doing this, and it’s a great way to save money on back-to-school clothes. You can also ask friends and family members to keep an eye out for you when they shop at garage sales.

There are awesome bargains to be found at thrift stores too. Clothing is very affordable there, and many stores run sales specifically for parents shopping for back-to-school items. Start early, however; the selection will be picked over by the first day of school.

Your best bet is to start your kids’ clothing shopping in mid- to late July when there are plenty of clothes to choose from. Of course, if you do this, the “newness” will have worn off by the first day of school, so put these clothes away until school starts so they’ll feel brand-new to your kids.

4. Check Consignment Shops

Consignment shops are great places to find used clothing because everything they offer has already been vetted, so unlike at the thrift store, you won’t have to paw through blouses from 1975 to find designer clothing on a shoestring budget.

If your area has several consignment shops, find out if they’ll be having a sale in late summer. Many consignment shops organize a seasonal sale, especially during the back-to-school shopping season. Several shops might even organize a mega-sale in one location, pooling all their resources together. You can find consignment shops in your area at Kids Consignment Sales.

5. Check the Dollar Store

You can get some incredible bargains on school supplies at the dollar store, where you’ll find basic supplies like notebooks and pencils, as well as classroom supplies like Kleenex and sanitizer, all at bargain prices. Start shopping in the summer months, because you never know what items stores will order or how long those items will stay in stock.

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